C. was visiting from Botswana, so our aim was to please. An intrepid traveler, she's lived in 3 continents over the past 10 years, and enjoys eating local. When she expressed an interest in Southern food, I jumped at the chance to go to a DC Institution, the Florida Avenue Grill. I've done the Brunch at Georgia Brown's and have had the chicken at Oooh's and Aaah's, but had yet to get the full dinner experience, minus the bright lights and the tourists (a la Ben's Chili Bowl, a few blocks away). While I enjoy fine dining, Mexican street food, frequent trips across the border and long stretches of time spent on a student budget have made me a fan of holes in the wall.
Florida Avenue Grill has been around since 1944, and if you have any doubts about its standing as an institution all you have to do is look around the walls to find a myriad of autographed pictures. Every stool was full when we got there around 2 o'clock, but a smiling woman behind the counter pointed us in the general direction of a booth that had just become available. It could have very well been 1944 for the lack of flash, but the place has its own charm.
As C. and I pondered the menu, an unassuming bread basket showed up. I didn't want to ruin my appetite, but the smell, texture and color of the cornbread conspired against me. C., in Botswana by way of Shanghai and Manchester, had never tasted a cornbread muffin, and she was introduced to them in style. It was an unseasonably warm day in DC so we ordered a round of Iced Tea, which would have given any Sweet Tea in Louisiana a run for its money. The sugar shock was the icy jolt we needed to concentrate on the menu and stop pondering the muffins. The place was packed, but we were never rushed - we just had to make sure to catch our waitress before she made her way to the kitchen, all of 8 feet away.
C. had the fried chicken with a side of beets and I had the spare ribs with a side of baked Mac & Cheese. I am calling them sides but at the Florida Avenue Grill these are deemed "vegetables", a rather broad use of the term. C's fried chicken was golden and crunchy, with the pleasant texture but not the excess oil. My barbeque ribs needed the slightest touch from my fork to give way - the sauce was tangy and sirupy. I thought I had over-ordered (the plate came with 4 ribs) but the pork was moist and leaner than I expected. The Mac & Cheese was a bit dry, but one could chalk that up to it's vegetable complex. Though we were both stuffed we decided to have dessert - we were in a Southern diner, after all. Our choices were coconut cake and peach cobbler. C. was away when I ordered, and not knowing if she was a fan of coconut I opted for the cobbler, which was served in a small bowl. While it wasn't bad, it was almost unbearably sweet, and the wonderful crust and crumble that characterizes many cobblers was nowhere to be found, replaced by some dumpling-like masses floating about. Some jam and the rest of the muffins would have probably been a better choice. The better angels of our nature prevailed and we declined a second basket.
Florida Avenue Grill has an extensive breakfast menu, and I am looking forward to trying their pancakes. With such great ribs, I can't wait to see what they can do with cured meats.
Florida Avenue Grill
1100 Florida Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20009